Holiday time is here, kicking things off with Halloween around the corner! So many fun celebrations are coming up and as a trainer and nutrition coach, there’s a few common questions I get asked: “How do I balance treats and fun foods within my healthy diet?” “How do I avoid holiday weight gain?” “How do I stop the all-or-nothing cycle I often fall into this time of year?” As you approach the upcoming holidays, take a step back and ask yourself “How do I want to feel AFTER the holidays are over?” I find that MOST people want to come out the other side of October-December having felt like they enjoyed fun foods without overdoing it. That they want to start out the New Year feeling like they aren’t “starting from scratch” with their nutrition and fitness endeavors- but instead are just continuing the path they are already on- but possibly stepping things up a notch. I’m a big proponent of a balanced and moderate eating approach all year long. I don’t believe in “clean” vs. “dirty” foods and I don’t feel you ever need to be “on a diet” or “off a diet” with a black and white approach. ALL food has its place and often we need to look at our nutrition from a wider perspective and not get so acutely focused on tiny details. One of my favorite ways to approach nutrition is as a DIAL instead of an ON and OFF switch. Some periods in your life and throughout the year, you’ll want to turn that dial down- maybe when stress levels are high and you are juggling a lot on your plate- or when you are enjoying lots of food focused celebrations. This doesn’t mean you turn OFF the nutrition focus completely- you still always do SOMETHING. Maybe for you that means walking daily, but not being as structured with a formal workout routine. Or maybe that might mean indulging in some larger meals or restaurant visits, but still practicing mindful eating skills (such as eating slowly and creating a balanced plate of a more calorie dense entree and with a lighter/volume and fiber filled side like some veggies or side salad as opposed to fries). So, I’m here to answer those commonly asked questions, how do I balance treats and fun food within my healthy diet?

With Halloween coming up and you might be overwhelmed and worried about how to “handle” the incoming candy and treats that will inevitably be in your home. But don’t worry! Remember that YOU get to choose and YOU can then take ownership of your choices. I’d suggest looking ahead at your week and month- what parties or events are coming up? If you have multiple food focused gatherings this week, maybe choose just ONE that you want to indulge more in and the others you’ll approach more strategically. Let’s say one of the events is a kids Halloween party… you don’t have to eat from the cupcake tray unless it’s worth it to YOU! I typically like to save my indulgences and fun foods for things that are homemade and unique and I know will be delicious and worth every bite. Store bought cupcakes might be something you can happily pass over, but your sister-in-law’s homemade sugar cookies may be something you want to enjoy. You can also opt for just a portion of a treat instead of a full size- share with your spouse or a friend- or take some to go or to share with your kids. Especially if you take a bite of something that you find isn’t as great as you hoped, you don’t have to finish it! Bottom line- take ownership of your choices. You are always in the drivers seat of your own nutrition. And even if you don’t have options over WHAT food there is at a party, you always have control over HOW MUCH you eat. How do I avoid holiday weight gain? Firstly, I think it’s important to understand that when it comes to weight gain vs weight loss, that there is also a middle ground of MAINTENANCE. We often forget this and many will get so overwhelmed at the idea of working on weight loss during holiday time, that we think the only other alternative is gaining weight- so they say “screw it” and just eat everything and figure they’ll get back to it in January. If you’ve never consciously worked on just being at maintenance, you may not realize what a wonderful place it is to be! You need a calorie deficit for weight loss, but to maintain, you can eat more than what you would be eating for fat loss! Many don’t want to track their intake during the holidays and that’s completely fine. But there are 2 nutrition tips that you can utilize EVERY DAY and EVERY time you eat that doesn’t include logging your food and tracking macros and calories. And I find that if you follow these 2 tips, you will most likely avoid that holiday weight gain and find that sweet spot of maintaining as you enter the New Year. Eat slowly – Eat without distractions. Think of the times you have overeaten past being comfortably full. I guarantee you were either eating quickly and/or eating while doing something else- like watching TV. When we eat too quickly and without full attention, we miss important hunger and fullness cues. If we get used to eating while doing other things (such as while watching tv or working at the computer), we’ll start to feel like we SHOULD be eating when we do those things. Instead set aside time in your day for eating! Schedule it in like you do other important appointments. And then practice slowing down your eating speed. Place your utensil or food down between bites, take a sip of water, and BREATHE. You might be surprised when you realize you rarely stop to take a breath when eating a meal. Eating slowly is a particularly helpful strategy when at a holiday party as well. Take breaks between each bite and actually socialize with those around you. How do I stop the all-or-nothing cycle I fall into this time of year? I think most people will agree that a couple fun sized candy bars won’t derail your nutrition for the day- but the trouble comes when eating a couple small treats spirals into a full day of overeating and feeling sick to your stomach (sometimes as a result of feeling like we already “messed up”). Remember, there is a middle ground between eating NO treats and eating ALL the treats. A couple of tips that may be useful to find that balance- which you can employ at home or a holiday party…

Use the water trick: I find this particularly helpful when approaching the buckets full of Halloween candy- if you have kids, there’s no avoiding it! So- before reaching for a piece of candy, drink a glass of water. And THEN go for that treat. After each candy, drink another glass of water. This works wonders in a couple ways- first, it helps fill your stomach and hydrate you so you aren’t easily overeating on treats. And second, it forces you to PAUSE and THINK before reaching for more candy/treats. There isn’t any restrictive rule here that says you can’t have the candy/chocolate- just that you should pause, drink some water, and be mindful with each piece. Is it worth it to me? Do I even like this candy? Sounds silly, but these are important skills to have and important questions to ask yourself to truly be a mindful eater that can balance your food approach all year long (not just when you are “on a diet”). You should never be eating food/treats just because it’s there. Eat it for a reason and LOVING a Reeses pb cup is a great reason!

Set aside a favorite treat for the DAY AFTER Halloween: Part of the reason many will overdo it with their eating on a holiday or leading up to a holiday is because they feel like it’s their last chance before the diet get serious the next day haha. But if you plan to have a treat the day after, it helps to alleviate that sense of false urgency. And to go along with this- I’d highly discourage falling into a plan to start “clean eating” or “no sugar challenge” the day after a holiday. It just sets up a pattern of a “good” vs “bad” food mentality and tends to lead to more overeating down the road when we feel like we “cheated” by eating something “off plan”. ALL food has its place and the goal should really be to eat in a way that we can eat FOREVER. I hope these nutrition and mindful eating tips will help you approach the holidays with more intention and a clearer idea of how YOU truly want to view food and how that looks in regards to your daily actions. Remember that you are in control and you are the driver of your nutritional path. Drive down the road that you want to be on and that makes you most happy in the long term! And then when you are starting up your New Year in 2020, you can feel good about the choices you made because you never “turned off” your nutritional dial- you can always turn that dial up in January but you are already on the road you want to be on and have set yourself up for a lifetime of success.

Susan Dangerfield is a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and a Nutrition Coach through Precision Nutrition. She has her degree in Elementary Education and taught 5th grade before transitioning to be a stay at home mom to her 4 kids (currently ages 8 to 14). Now she’s found a love for teaching others about weight lifting, movement, and nutrition. She’s been training and coaching clients since 2017 and has a passion for helping others find sustainable approaches to health and fitness. Susan resides in sunny Arizona and has been married to her husband Ben for 17 years.



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